By Anne Belanger
Are you a new triathlete looking to make improvements on technique but can’t afford a coach? Do you have a coach but still want to supplement your training free of cost? Watching professional triathletes tackle their hardest races can provide valuable insights into form and techniques that you can adapt into your own training.
As a young athlete, I always watched professional athletes competing in their respective sports. While I was a hockey goaltender, I would watch the amazing saves section of Don Cherry’s Rock em’ Sock em’ movies or a 101 Epic Soccer Saves video before playing goalie in a soccer game. These segments allowed me to analyze the body movements used by professional athletes and I gained insight into their tendencies while they were performing at their best. During my own competitions and practices I would picture how the professionals reacted and try to mimic this form, in the hopes that it would improve my own performance. These same techniques can be used in the sport of triathlon. A new triathlete can watch how the professionals move during the swim, run, bike and transitions to look for insights into body form and performance. I’ve been using this training approach myself for triathlons.
For the purposes of this article I will be referring to the 2016 New Plymouth ITU World Cup – Elite Women’s Highlights and the 2016 Abu Dhabi World Triathlon – Elite Women’s highlights.
It is a little difficult to watch the professional’s race and analyze their swim techniques since most of their performance is under the water. The 2016 New Plymouth and the 2016 Abu Dhabi World Triathlons do not provide much insight into swimming form but I would advise athletes to watch the races in whole and listen closely to the competitors. The commentators often provide tips on racing strategy while the races unfold.
Have you completed a few triathlons already and yet you still struggle with taking your wetsuit off effectively? That particular wetsuit problem is one of the reasons why I like the video of the 2016 New Plymouth race. At 0:36 the camera shows Gwen Jorgensen entering her transition area. She quickly arrives at her bike and throws her equipment in the bin (us non-elite athletes will throw our equipment on our towel). Next we see her taking her wetsuit off and if you notice she lowers it to her knees and then steps on the wetsuit to take one foot out and steps on it again to take the other foot out. The wetsuit effortlessly slides off and she is off on the bike. This is a technique to practice. Instead of sitting down and wasting time struggling to get the wetsuit over your feet, you can practice stepping on the wetsuit and making a clean transition. Make sure to always put your helmet on first and fasten it, before grabbing your bike and heading out of transition.
We won’t be able to match the speed of these professional triathletes on the bike but we can take note of their cadence and body positioning. Cadence is a very important aspect for triathletes. We want a cadence that allows us to move fast but also one where the resistance is low so we can save leg power for the run. If you are in a high gear, and grinding hard on the bike, your legs will be exhausted by the time you reach the 2.5km, 5km or 10km run. The 2016 Abu Dhabi highlights are best for seeing some great cycling cadence and form from 0:30 to 2:06.
The athletes move their legs quickly with a high cadence and most riders hit the same beats while pedaling. Next time you’re out on your own ride try and see if you can make that cadence work for you with a high speed and low strain on your legs.
I am Canadian and I really do look up to the amazing Canadian elite athletes such as Amelie Kretz, Sarah-Anne Brault, Kirsten Sweetland, Paula Findlay, and a few others that are not as high profile. However for running, I will once again refer to American athlete Gwen Jorgensen. In terms of running there is no denying that Gwen is currently the greatest on the elite women’s racing circuit.
I will make it clear as well that I am not a professional runner, triathlete or physiotherapist so all of my own thoughts and if you have questions on running form and your own body, it is best to find a professional!
In the New Plymouth race, Jorgensen breaks away from the group on the run and earns first place as she has done many times before and will continue to do. Watch Jorgensen’s form throughout the run from 1:36 to 2:25.
She has essentially zero rotation in her entire body. Her shoulders are relaxed; her back is straight; her arms are not over crossing over her body and she barely rotates her hips. Jorgensen is lifting her legs with her hamstring and her knee follows on the up. While she lands, she falls comfortably on the balls of her feet and does not over reach her step. There is no foot or leg crossover during Jorgensen’s stride as her legs always follow the same straight front and back line.
How can Gwen’s form help you? Go for a run and practice the movements in your own workout. Keep your shoulders relaxed; keep your back straight; make sure your arms and feet do not crossover. Lift your leg with your hamstrings and glutes rather than your quad muscles. If you can’t maintain the form over long periods of time, just try small intervals of integration. Personally, I decided to pay attention to my walking form as well to make sure I had a straight-line leg path. Running and walking are not the same movements but I felt it helped me recognize the feeling of minimizing my foot crossover. If you’re not able to force your legs into a straight forward-backward path, your muscles are probably out of sync! At this point, I would suggest you see a professional physiotherapist. It will not only help with your form and speed but it will also help in preventing injuries.
I know watching the professionals race have really helped me to improve my own form. I have used it as a small partnership addition with my triathlon coaching and my own physiotherapy appointments. If you’re just getting into triathlons and not ready to commit to some further expenses, videos are a great way to learn. If you don’t pick up much from watching other athletes form, at least you could watch these races the night before your race and get pretty pumped up to share this amazing sport with all your peers.